Introduction / History
Othai, at the foot of the Cholar hills and at the bank of Chaliar river, can be reached traveling through Arikode or Edavanna in Malappuram district, Kerala. A look to east from Othai, Cholar hills can be seen. The inhabitants of these hills are known as Malamuthans. (Mala means hills) They are seen in many mounts in Nilambur forest region.
Although they were provided with rehabilitation package with government setting up girijan (tribal) colonies in Nilambur, Kalkulam, Chokkad and Cherupuzha, Malamuthans here prefer to remain in the Cholar hills. Malamuthans who live in the hills have a higher standard of living compared to their counterparts who had settled in girijan colonies.
While scaling the steep mounts and reach the summit there are cashew plantations where some houses are seen intermittently, roofed with tiles. A number of trees camouflage houses that are located amidst the trees. Tiles and the materials for constructing these houses were carried on head from the nearby towns.
While climbing up, we saw many who were on a downhill journey. Some of them go for their daily job in the nearby towns and others are children who go to school.
Bamboo, which is abundantly grown here are cut and dispatched to the valley for sale. The felled trees, are laid, stacked and fired to make coal. This coal is in great demand since it is the most commonly used fuel for hotels in the towns. The wholesalers of bamboo and coal used to come to the valley. Major cultivations of Malamuthans are plantain, tapioca and paddy. Some fields of these Muthans are given on lease to the people in the town at throwaway prices.
Journeying uphill was tiresome. My guide and I had to stop frequently to breath. We stopped near by a hut roofed with hay. Walls were laid up of raw bricks. When I was about to catch the bamboo beam projected from the roof, a voice was heard, "Don't hold it". An old woman was shouting in the tribal dialect. She was drying paddy spread on a bamboo mat in the courtyard. Out of curiosity I asked, "What happens if I touched?" "I will burn the house, if defiled." The answer was instant. She continued, "In this hill only two of us remain untouched. At least we want to die with sanctity". The old woman's chief grouse was that all her people had defiled themselves by their association with the natives in the town, where some worked there, inter-married and spoiled the traditions of the clan.
The other person whom she mentioned was the Mooppan (elder) of the hill. He was living alone, cooking food for himself since his sons had married from other community. Due to age Mooppan lost his eyesight. In the flashlight of the camera the vessels he used were seen lying in a dark floor of the house. He was lying there to breath his last.
Muthans worship hill goddess. Owing to their contact with the people in the town many other gods too 'climbed up' the hill. The popular notion in Kerala is Adivasis (native tribes) in Kerala are uncivilized but the Muthans on Cholar hills are an exception to that.
They try to combine a modern civilization and lifestyle. There are many more Muthans on the other hills of the Western Ghat, who live with a century old practices.